Leaders in the rare earth industry from around the world gathered in Saskatoon on Sept. 20 to celebrate the grand opening of a new rare earth processing plant in Saskatoon to be used in a global supply chain.
David Connelly, vice-president of strategy and corporate affairs for Cheetah Resources and Vital Metals, recounts the occasion.
“It started with Aurora College participating in the educational panel on preparing residents of the Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan for the jobs emerging in the rare earth industry. We had a meeting at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce Critical Minerals Council to look at optimizing the benefits to Canada for participating in critical minerals supply chains.” Connelly said. “That was followed by a presentation from a subject matter expert, giving the 200 and some guests ‘rare earth 101.’ The mayor of Saskatoon capped it off by presenting Vital Metals… a significant tax abatement.”
Connelly also explained why the processing plant is based in Saskatoon and not Yellowknife.
“Rare earths enable the green economy. Our customers require third-party verification that (Cheetah Resources and Vital Metals) have a low carbon footprint, or they will not buy the product. The Government of Saskatchewan has assured Vital of carbon-free and competitive electricity” he said. “Energy is one of the highest costs in metallurgical processing. Electricity is approximately 35 cents per KwH (in the NWT, but only) nine cents in Saskatchewan.
“Permitting in Saskatchewan takes months versus many years in the NWT. Our consultations with NWT stakeholders tell us they prefer that metallurgical processing not be done in the NWT because it involves chemicals and waste disposal.”
Use in electric motors
Vital Metals procured a portion of the Nechalacho rare earth deposit, 110 kilometers southeast of Yellowknife, three years ago. After the ore is processed in Saskatoon, the product will be exported to Norway and the United States for separation into individual magnetic rare earth metals. Then it will make a final trip to the Schaeffler Group of Germany, a major European auto parts manufacturer, to be used for building electric motors.
Dettah Chief Edward Sangris of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation made a speech at the event in Saskatoon, welcoming the mining opportunity. He said the Northwest Territories possess an abundant supply of rare and precious metals.
“We have three operating diamond mines in our traditional territories. We are proud of this wealth and all the other exploration and production,” Sangris said. “It is a benefit to all the people just like the processes used at Nechalacho that is (toxic)-free and leaves the land and water intact without (environmental) impacts on mining projects. We have looked at Nechalacho with great interest and excitement. Our partnership has been respectful that our communities benefited from new jobs and training for our future growth and equity in this world-class mineral opportunity.”
Nechalacho has created 58 jobs, fluctuating seasonally, according to Connelly. He said that if the Tardiff zone expansion is approved, employment at Nechalacho would increase to more than 200 workers.
Connelly repeated a statement written in the Financial Times: “A new rare earth elements mine provides Canada with the opportunity to become a cornerstone of North America’s critical minerals industry”
Rare earths are sought after for their highly magnetic properties and are used in the creation of electric vehicles, wind turbines, cellphones, laptops and numerous other products.